I’m going to break the rules a bit for this one. In part two of my fantasy baseball draft day series, I mentioned that I would go over the best shortstops to add to your team and the ones who could potentially make you reconsider drafting them so early. This requires me to go beyond my self-set jurisdiction and include players within the top 100 of ESPN’s rotisserie standard league draft rankings. It also requires me to look beyond the numbers, as some of the guys I will talk about spring more or less value for either upside, offensive adequacy of their team, or intangibles like injury history. With that being said, let’s dig real deep into the shallowest position in fantasy baseball and leave no stone unturned. Let’s turn pages some have feared to gaze upon. Let’s rewrite the book on draft day and lead you one step close to a championship. How ’bout we begin with…
1) Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
Of all the players I will mention in this article, Ian Desmond is hands-down the most reliable. A now-perennial 20-20 club member, Desmond brings the perfect combination of skills, upside, and experience to the shortstop position. Along with Starling Castro and Elvis Andrus, he is one of the few shortstops in this article with at least 130 or more games under their belt for at least four straight seasons. Anyone who’s anyone will know what they’re getting with him, as well as what more else he could provide as he continues to improve. I could talk about his increasing BABIP or his steady boost in extra base hits each season (81 combined in 2010-2011, 121 combined in 2012-2013,) but all this stuff is stemmed from a ever-growing Isolated Power and hit totals. At this point in his career, however, the constantly poor strikeout, walk, and contact rates have taken a toll on his overall production to an extent. But still, there’s no doubting the fact that Desmond could clean that up a bit as the years go by. No matter how you slice it, he’s a top flight talent, and an absolute must-have in any roster, in any league.
2) Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
Ever since his rookie season in 2009, Elvis Andrus has been among the league leaders in runs scored for shortstops, amassing a grand total of 432 in that span. Considering the additions of Prince Fielder and Sin-Soo Choo to the Rangers lineup, I think it’s safe to assume that he’d be very capable of running away with the league lead in that category in 2014. Andrus carries another specialty in stolen bases, as he’s averaged 33 of those in his relatively short run in the Bigs. Along with guys like Ian Desmond, he has played well over 130+ games each year, while maintaining impressive contact rates year in and year out. Some will make fun of the fact that he has as much power as Chris Davis does speed, but I’m sure they’re both relishing in their deficiencies through some kind of friendly bet (if, in fact, they became good friends when CD was in Texas.) I could care less if he matches his career low in homers, which is quite hilariously zero, simply because he’ll get the green light from Ron Washington almost every night and probably steal a career-high 50 bags or something. At the end of the day, the aforementioned intangibles that factor into these guys’ production are very clear-cut with Andrus. Pitchers will have far more to worry about other than him on the base paths, so expecting at least 40 swipes and 100 scores with a .270-ish average is anything but intangible.
3) Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers
The funny thing about Jean Segura is that those who wait a few more rounds to draft him instead of the other top shortstops will arguably be getting more bang for their buck. At least that would be the case for the first half of 2014. Last season before the All-Star break, Segura’s numbers were unbelievable: .325 batting average, .487 slugging percentage, .849 OPS, 11 homers, 36 RBIs, 54 runs scored, and 27 stolen bases at an 84% success rate. Besides Tulo of course, he was undoubtedly the best shortstop in fantasy baseball for quite some time. Where skepticism rears its ugly head is in his awful second half, where the only thing that remained of an elite caliber in Segura’s game were his steals. But let’s make three things very clear about that:
1. Segura was technically a rookie in 2013 (he only played 44 games with the Angels in 2012 before being traded) so part of his drop off was that of the dreaded rookie wall.
2. With Braun being suspended for the season for PED use, he had to go out of his way a bit to provide extra production for the Brewers, and therefore, sacrificed stats such as his walk totals.
3. Milwaukee wasn’t really going anywhere and neither was Segura, so in a way there wasn’t much else he had to play for by season’s end.
Is this me stating that he’s a top-3 shortstop in all of fantasy baseball? Does this mean that his post-All Star game struggles were just coincidences hindering what was otherwise an outstanding breakout season? Should Jean Segura currently be in the same conversation as Troy Tulowitzki? Yes. Maybe. And absolutely not. However, you have to remember that Segura was on the waiver wire of nearly every fantasy league until he got his just attention. If he did indeed destroy your fantasy championship hopes last year, he must’ve at least helped put you in the conversation anyway. The scariest thing of all is that Segura has yet to have a ceiling. If his second half looked anything like his first, he would’ve wound up with 20 homers, 75 RBIs, 100 runs, and 50 stolen bases. He would’ve easily been a second or third round steal in this year’s draft, and that is exactly why Segura’s upside alone could propel him to top-30 overall status in next year’s draft.
4) Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics
Even despite career highs in batting average (.290,) RBIs (75,) and extra base hits (62) last season, Lowrie finds himself way below the totem pole of shortstops in this year’s draft. Get this: Alexei Ramirez (#129,) Asdrubal Cabrera (#148,) and Andrelton Simmons (#162) are all ranked above him in standard fantasy league drafts, and none of them even slugged above .400. If I were Homer Simpson before having kids, I’d have no hair, either. Let’s give ESPN the benefit of the doubt, here. Maybe there’s a glitch in the rankings, or the fantasy analysts who cross referenced the numbers were too busy deciding whether Mike Trout is more valuable than Miguel Cabrera. Research is such a beautiful thing, because in instances such as these I couldn’t dumb myself down to their level if I tried. Lowrie’s numbers, whether at home where he slugged .436, or on the road where he hit .303 with a .816 OPS, never took too hard a hit for playing in a division with arguably the best pitching staffs in the American League. He was a beast with runners in scoring position, batting an even .300 with a .515 slugging percentage and an .885 OPS. He trumped his old career-high in doubles with 45 last year, and seesawed his contact and strikeout rates to his favor. Besides stolen bases, there’s very little you can take away from a guy who’s finally found himself in one of the more exciting venues in all of baseball. He can help you out across the board on a nightly basis, and carries the consistency necessary to have you stray from the better shortstops in the league and draft him instead. If you’re still not taking my high praise seriously then you never will be, but Lowrie’s draft ranking at #163 is an absolute joke.
1) Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
For someone who’s shown such a wide breadth of talent early on in his career, it was gravely disappointing to see Starling Castro put it all to waste in 2013. Coming off a 78-RBI, 25-stolen base season in 2012, he just never found his stroke last year, compiling just 44 ribbies and 9 swipes. Everything else screamed career-low, from a .284 OBP to a God-awful .631 OPS. If it’s any consolation, he did strike out a career-high 129 times, and got hit by more pitches than ever before. His lack of defense at the position has caused his manager and this organization to face palm at an all-time high, while he spent all of last year dragging his own team down night in and night out. Most surprising is that, unlike his ego, his hits, batting average, and overall production had begun to descend in 2012. I’d make the excuse that he’s only 23 and he’s still learning, but once-21-year old shortstops don’t just nab 200 hits in a single season and drift away afterwards. The upside is still there, and he could bounce back, but do you really wanna risk drafting Starling Castro in the 6th or 7th round over a Jean Segura or a J.J. Hardy? He’s never been more overrated, and unfortunately those who don’t read this will make the mistake of taking him over someone more reliable. Pitchers have certainly adjusted to his approach at this point, so unless he counters with an adjustment of his own, Castro will be just as unbearably hard to watch in 2014 as he was in 2013.
2) Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians
If only because he carries injury luggage, Asdrubal Cabrera does not have the same kind of upside as a Starling Castro could. Like a weekend snowstorm following a sunny Friday afternoon, his numbers have gotten worse every year since his amazing 2011 season. Although he managed a respectable .270 average and 16 homers in 2012, he barely managed a .371 slugging percentage and .676 OPS in the second half of that year. Even if you add up everything he did from then to last season (a combined 759 at-bats,) he would have 6 less home-runs, 2 less ribbi steaks, and only 21 more hits than he managed in 2011 alone. He’s been battling through a myriad of quad, back and wrist injuries in order to get his 550-600 plate appearances these last 2 and a half years, but to no avail has disappointed fantasy owners worldwide. You have to wonder when these issues will become a thing of the past, but since virtually every other shortstop within the 1-150 range in the draft are healthier and arguably better, you should put your foot down and let someone else deal with him until proven otherwise.
3) Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies
Jimmy Rollins is certainly getting up there in age, and his numbers last season add weight to that notion. Slugging .348 with a .646 OPS and only 65 runs scored, Rollin’s statistics in 2013 are very hard to look at. While one could make the claim that the Phillies were without Ryan Howard for most of the year to drive him in, he only got on base with a .318 clip. As far as leadoff men go, that’s pretty bad (although he did have a .316 OBP in 2012 when he hit 23 homers.) Rollins power also seems to have diminished rather abruptly, as he knocked single-digit home runs for the first time since his injury-riddled 2010 campaign. While his plate discpline remains solid, his .289 BABIP in 2013 suggests that he’d have to pull a Daft Punk and get lucky (REAL lucky) to salvage the prior success he once had in fantasy baseball. His ranking isn’t too high or too low, but don’t even look at him in drafts of any league unless you already have, like, three or four guys at that position already.
1) Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays
I love ya, Jose. I really do. No one appreciates your excellent defense and reckless abandon on the bases like I do. And no one will ever deny the fact that you could’ve led the Mets to a pennant or maybe even a World Series championship if you had more help. But you’re never 100% healthy anymore. I’d text, Facebook, and sometimes even Kik you, but you’re always too busy rehabbing. Everytime I ask about your ankle, you tell me it’s fine, but then you sprain it within the next year or two. One year, you’re the best fantasy shortstop and a top-20 overall contributor in your sleep. The next, I have to draft an extra guy to back you up when you eventually get hurt. Come on, now! Just stay healthy!!
That there is exactly why I frown upon Reyes being ranked #31 in standard fantasy league draft rankings. While he did have a full season with Miami in 2012, he only found his way onto the field for 93 starts with Toronto last season. Chronic ankle woes are no stranger to his play style, so one would have to come to the realization that it could pop at any given moment since he’s only getting older. And Reyes is going to turn 31 this year (go figure,) which isn’t old, but it invites concern for those who hate owning players with an asterisk. The worst part about all this is that the Rogers Centre isn’t ideal for players trying to keep their legs under them, with its bouncy turf being a worrisome factor for many an infielder. If indeed he does avoid the DL, he will be a top-3 shortstop in fantasy, as he can rack up 40 bags and 100 scores with the blink of an eye. But the chances of that happening are very slim in my opinion. My best advice to you is to wait ’till the All-Star break if you really want him and hope the other guy sells a little low. But if you REALLY want him, understand that you can not take his draft value for granted.
2) Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres
You know, I used to love Ryan Braun. He was my favorite player in the entire league when I started (religiously) watching baseball games. He could offensively take over a ballgame with the swing of a bat, change a pitcher’s tempo on the mound with a sneaky stolen base, and take a crowd’s breathe away with an awe-inspiring leaping/diving catch. Then he pissed me off and got suspended for the entire 2013 season for the use of PEDs in his 2011 MVP season (Matt Kemp, I feel so sorry for you.) He brought my team down to the ground with him and practically dug it into a grave I couldn’t escape from.
Some of you are asking what any of this has to do with Everth Cabrera. Well, he took PEDs too, didn’t he?
The reason why I mention Ryan Braun is because, if you drafted Cabrera to help your team win in stolen bases and eventually got burned because of that, you were screwed the same way I was. There’s no question that Cabrera’s one-trick pony is his speed. His legs brought forth 37 stolen bases in his cheat-coded 2013 season, and led him to 54 runs scored in 95 games. Simply because he plays in such a relatively futile position, his lack of any real power or run driving capability are easily offset by that. The Padres could provide some semblance of offense this season, but the real question is: is Everth Cabrera’s .283 batting average and .355 OBP last season legit? If he can hit and get on base with consistency, he may be worth his draft value, But if I were you, I’d have to think real hard before considering drafting him, especially since there are a whole bunch of more valuable pitchers and hitters behind him in the rankings. I will put it this way. You SHOULD draft him if it gives you the ultimate stolen base advantage in your league. You SHOULD NOT draft him if you want a slight boost in homers and RBIs, and you want a more balanced lineup. Either way, he took PEDs, so he’s a risky draft pick in any scenario because we all know he could take it again.
3) Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers/Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Unless your in a shallow league without keepers seeking a first-round pick, the chances of nabbing either one of these otherwordly talents is slim to none. The priority you must bestow among having their presence in your lineup speaks louder than words alone. People will always jab at Hanley’s struggles with Miami before leaving to LA and his timely injury woes since, and others will do the same for Tulo and the fact that he has only played 140 or more games three times in his Major league career. The best thing to happen for these two and for thrill seekers across the nation would be for the both of them to play a full season, at the same time.
Hanley’s resurgence in Los Angeles is all about the change of scenery. The Marlins were pretty stupid for moving him to third base and expecting him to be comfortable, but Donny Baseball knows how spark chemistry and give his guys what they want (and deserve.) Anyway, what he did to every visiting ballpark in 2013, what he accomplished at home, and how he lost his mind in the postseason altogether is enough justification for being placed so high in this year’s draft. I’ve never seen a player like him carry both his team and ours to playoff contention so effortlessly. If I told you that he had amassed 20 homers and 57 RBIs with a 1.040 OPS and 10 stolen bases in just over 300 at-bats, what would you say? What would you do? Well, I’d totally zero in on him in the first round of my draft and hope for a full season with that same level of excellence. But therein lies the problem. Hanley’s hamstring has been hurting those chances recently, and he was actually hit by a pitch in the shoulder the other day during a spring training contest. I’d love to give that sort of thing the benefit of the doubt, but hamstring injuries have a history of chronically coming back for some players, and shoulder injuries could be equally concerning. So, is drafting him worth the risk? In my opinion, it depends. You’d have to plan a draft strategy perfectly suited for a rainy day, in case he loses as much time on the field as he did last season. If not, I would play it safe with someone like Ian Desmond. But so long as he’s carrying a bat and approaching the plate everyday, Hanley Ramirez will have a chip on his shoulder (no pun intended) and go off on an MVP-caliber level any chance he gets.
Ditto for Tulowitzki, although you probably know that already. It’s not fair for fantasy owners that he could be the Peyton Manning of fantasy baseball all year long, but can never be healthy enough to prove it. Any statistic that bears mentioning for Tulo is gawdy, but he had his fourth .200+ Isolated Power campaign in 2013. What does that mean for perhaps the best on-field power-hitting shortstop in baseball history? I’ll give you an example: last year he hit for such a high average and slugged so efficiently, that if you take the latter and subtract it from the former, the end result is better than Adam Dunn’s batting average for the entire season. In rotisserie leagues, Tulowitzki is a god. He’s never had a walk rate below 8.4% throughout his career, so he’s always on base when he’s not rounding them. That means, when CarGo bats behind him, he’s going to score. Period. His 81% contact rate and .339 BABIP last season cement his incredible .312 average, which means he can even do the little things to help you win when he’s not going yard. Period. The icing on the cake? Troy has never had a season where he got at least 400 at-bats and didn’t drive in at least 20 homers, 50 extra base hits, and 80 RBIs. What I’m about to say next is no joke: I firmly believe that if Tulowitzki could successfully avoid injuries from here on in, he will instantly become the most valuable player in all of fantasy baseball. Shortstops are not even supposed to touch the numbers he’s accumulated in full seasons, but the fact that he effortlessly supplants those of his peers in limited action is an accomplishment in and of itself. His constant groin problems have kept him from playing a full season all but one time in his career, so ironically the best player at his position brings with him the most remarkable caveat. But for those who are willing to take the fringiest leap of faith one could ever take, hopefully it becomes a thing of the past sooner or later.
I’ve got TV reviews to catch up on, so my next fantasy baseball post may take a little while to hit the internet. Keep your eyes peeled, fellas.